This post was authored by Laura, a volunteer English teacher at the Social Development Center (SDC). The Social Development Center was established in 2002 by four Karenni alumni of the EarthRights School Burma (ERSB).

The vision of SDC is to promote the lives of those refugees who have suffered human rights abuses, teach non-violent methods of social change, develop the rule of law, value human dignity and protect the environment. Graduates from the SDC have gone on to work in many local refugee camp based organizations, whilst others have travelled at great personal risk to pass on their new knowledge and skills to affected communities within Burma.

ERI and SDC are lucky to have the support of volunteers like Laura, who donate their time and effort in support of our work.

I am currently volunteering for 3 months as an English teacher at the Social Development Center in Northern Thailand, and although I’m only one month in so far, I’ve already had a life changing experience! The students are some of the most motivated, clever, and hardworking people I’ve ever met – and they are also so friendly, optimistic and respectful as well, which is so surprising given the current situation within their state in Burma. They try hard at every subject and are always eager to learn new things, and share their stories with me. Their dreams of the future largely involve giving back to their communities or improving their people’s situation, and helping others in any way possible – it is amazing how selfless these youths are, something I’ve rarely seen in the western world.

The other teachers are also inspirational role models, full of knowledge and ideas, and are working hard to improve the quality of education of the people in the camp and the future generation.

SDC classroom

The Karenni people have beautiful, gentle souls and are trying their hardest to make the best of a bad situation and maintain their community, environment, language and culture. Despite the remoteness of the village I am in (30 minutes from any large town), everyone has made me feel so welcome that I often forget I’m far away from home. The pace of life is easy but there is always enough going on in a school with around 15 students at any one time that I haven’t been bored since I’ve arrived. The local scenery is still largely untouched, which gives me a great view from my bedroom window!

Overall, this experience has already been life changing, with a steep learning curve – including how to live without luxuries, hot water, immediate internet access and how to ride a motorbike – but since I’ve arrived I have had no regrets and am eager to see what the next 2 months has in store for me here!